The Toughest Decision I’ve Had To Make

As I type this out, it’s been one week since I’ve made the toughest decision of my life (now two weeks as this goes live). The decision was filled with buckets of tears, sleepless nights, and pain like I’ve never felt before.

My bubba, Zane

My bubba, Zane

My wife and I had to make the choice to put our beloved dog, Zane, down. To us, he was the best dog we could have asked for.

He joined our lives just over eight years ago for Valentine’s Day, a gift for Pam.

A mix of German Shepherd and Husky, he had lots of energy and love to go around. He was also one of the smartest dogs I’d ever owned.

Zane was easy to teach dog tricks. It was almost as if he instinctively knew what the commands meant. And he would do them. Whether it was sit, lay down, roll over, or belly rub. There was no training. He just knew.

He also loved people. He loved the vet. He loved our family. He loved strangers. Anyone he could snuffle and kiss, he would.

And then there was the running. Man, how he loved to run. The last year or two he got to do it frequently as he became my running partner.

The look of pure ecstasy on his face when he’d see me in my running clothes. Once he was out of his crate, he’d bounce from couch to love seat to stairs. Excited as his dogself could be to be going on a run.

My dog, Zane, sitting on the front porch chair

My dog, Zane, sitting on the front porch chair

Then there was the games we’d play as I got home from work. I would go to open up the door, but only a crack. Zane would come up sniffing the air and trying to stick his nose through the crack. He couldn’t wait for me to get home.

Or how I’d have to take him outside on a leash because he would jump our chain-link fence. He helped get me outside before and after work by doing this.

There are so many things I’m missing about you bubba. You were the best dog a guy like me could have asked for.

Last week we had to make the decision to put him down. Zane became sick. We’re not sure what it was but he was in pain and we knew we had to do what was best for him.

So I made the calls, took him in, held him, and let the vet do her work. He went so peacefully, it felt like a relief.

But that doesn’t make the decision any easier. Even if it was the right decision to make.

Remember this as you lead. You will have to make choices. They will be tough decisions. The decisions may hurt.

And yet if you want to be a great leader, you’ve got to make the choice.

Question: What’s the toughest decision you’ve had to make? If you feel comfortable, please share the decision in the comment section below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • A couple years ago, my wife and I were preparing to go to Kenya on a missions trip. About 4 weeks before the trip, it became obvious that my wife’s health was deteriorating. We had been planning this trip for nearly a year, and we were really looking forward to going. However, the risk that she would worsen while we were in Kenya was a real concern. We cried, we prayed, and we made the decision not to go. Here health got worse before it got better, and the trip to Kenya would have been disastrous.

    The cool thing is that she’s in a much better place as we make our final preparations for a trip to Guatemala in August. God is good!

    • Jon, I remember you sharing about your wife before. That would have to be a difficult choice to make as well.

      Glad to hear she’s doing better and that you’re preparing for another trip to Guatemala. Hope things go great and there’s lots of work that is done!

  • (Sorry about the loss of your friend/dog. I know how tough this can be.)

    • Thanks Jon. It’s been much tougher than I thought and I realized I loved him more than I realized.

    • Jon, “the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings.” Great to hear progress.

  • I lost one of my best friends six months ago. He was one of those guys that encouraged you to go and conquer the world right now. He took out a person in me that I will never see again in other friend. Experiences like these makes us sit, meditate, and ask “why?” Eventually we must shake it off and move on. His voice and laughter still resonates in my head.

    It’s tough. It’s sad. But we grow stronger.

    • And people like this can inspire us (and others) long after they are gone. Sounds like your friend did this for you.

      • Indeed it does @jonstolpe:disqus. And he did. Thanks.

    • Josue, I’m sorry to hear about your friend. That’s rough as well. It’s hard to find someone who’s so encouraging and go-go-go.

      I think the key is to not let his death be the end of his legacy. He’s impacted your life. Continue to live it as he encouraged you to live yours.

  • So sorry for your loss Joseph. I had a sweet heart golden lab that was put down two years ago. She lit up a room with smiles.

    It’s odd that you write this because this morning, my mother-in-law’s cat died. I heard my wife crying on the phone thinking that a family member died. It’s thought-provoking how attached we become to our pets.
    Let me know if you need anything

    • Thanks Alex. I bet your golden lab did do that. They’re gorgeous and loving dogs.

      Sorry to hear about your mother-in-law’s cat. Our attachment to animals is astounding.

  • Retha Groenewald

    Sorry about Zane. I agree with you, this is one of the toughest decisions to make. I’ve been through this.

    • Retha, thanks for the comment and sympathies.

  • Pixie Dust Savings

    So sorry for your loss. I have 2 furbabies and they are rather new to us. I can’t imagine ever letting them go. Dogs become so much a part of our lives.
    The biggest decision challenge I have had to make lately is returning to church. My sister was murdered 6 months ago and my best friend died 2 weeks before that (and things weren’t going great between us at the time). I was so angry and had so much guilt with the friend issues, I just went back to church 2 weeks ago.

    • It’s a rough choice to make. One we don’t want to ever have to do again but know that day may come with our other dog.

      I’m so sorry to hear about your sister and best friend passing away. I can see trust issues happening because of that. You’ve made a huge decision in trying to place your trust back into God.

  • Wow, what a loss. Sorry to hear about that. What I’ve done when my pets started getting elderly is to pray for God to take them so I wouldn’t have to.

    • Cheryl, that was my prayer as well. Unfortunately, he wasn’t old and he didn’t pass away in his sleep.

      Thankfully, there’s a lesson behind all of it. I’m still figuring it out but I know it’s there.

      • You may never know why in this life. It could be a lesson in trust.

        • That’s true. All I know is I feel like I’ve never needed God’s comfort more than I have since we had to do this.

  • Carol Peterson

    So sorry, Joe. Billy Graham was once attributed to saying (no quotation marks because this is coming from memory):

    Heaven is a perfect place; if having my pet there with me is what will make it perfect for me, then I believe my pet will be in heaven.

    Just imagine the fun!

    • That’s what we’re hoping Carol. In fact, when we made the decision to put Zane down, Pam had a dream he was in Heaven and playing with Jesus. Jesus also reassured her that He was going to take care of Zane while we’re still here. Comforting yet sad….

  • Aside from breaking up with my girlfriend in the ninth grade, lol, one of the most difficult decisions I ever made was resigning from my band Big Daddy Weave. I committed my life to the band and had played over 1500 concerts with them over a 13 year period. However, once I made the decision, there was no looking back. Now, as I reflect on that decision, I know it was the best decision I could’ve possibly made. My relationships have flourished and the quality of my life has shot through the roof.

    • Sometimes those breakups are tough Jeff!

      It’s understandable that leaving Big Daddy Weave was a difficult decision. You poured a lot of your life into the success of the band. I’m glad your decision has turned out for the best. You’re not only inspiring others, you’re also able to be with your family now.

  • I’m sorry to hear about your loss. This was very well written and it grabbed me emotionally. Thanks for honoring us by sharing it.

    • Thanks Charles. I’m glad it touched you. While it wasn’t necessarily leadership related, I felt there was a lesson here and I needed to honor my dog.

      Are there any tough decisions that you’ve made that you’ve seen great results from?

  • Great, great, great article! I have had to do the same for a pet I loved deeply. Now, I have a corgi that I adore and just live every day with him like it’s his last. He’s the best dog I’ve ever had!!! The funny thing about dogs, they require leadership. If you don’t provide it for them, they will do it themselves.

    • Don, thanks for sharing about your experience. You’re doing the dog right by living like every day could be it’s last. I’m sure he loves you!

      And you’re right about dogs requiring leadership. Zane could be so stubborn if we weren’t willing to step up and lead him in the right ways.

  • A few years ago, we had to make the same decision. I still cry when I think of Desi. My big kids ask if we’ll see Desi in heaven. It’s so hard to see a picture of him. I totally understand your pain. My condolences for your loss.

    • It’s definitely a tough decision and I’m sorry to hear you’ve had to go through it as well. I liked what Carol shared in a previous comment. She mentioned Billy Graham having said – Heaven is a perfect place; if having my pet there with me is what will make it perfect for me, then I believe my pet will be in heaven.

      I can only hold onto that being true!

  • I’m so sorry for your loss. Pets are precious treasures given to us by God.

    We recently had to make a tough decision with our oldest dog. We went on our first vacation in 4 years and had the dogs kenneled. We got back and the vet said our dog either had to have MAJOR oral surgery or be put to sleep. He also said that the dogs age made the procedure risky then he gave us the price of the surgery. We didn’t have that kind of money- especially for an elderly dog.
    We prayed about it and God gave us peace about having the surgery. Our dog made it thru and God will pay our bill.

    Our dog now has 21 teeth less than he previously had but he’s doing well- praise God.

    I’m sorry you had to say goodbye, that’s never easy.

    • I’m so glad to hear you were able to make a decision to keep your dog alive and healthy. The medical bills couldn’t have been cheap but their love and companionship are worth it.

      • Not cheap, but God has a limitless supply of blessings and I trust in HIS goodness.

        Again, I’m so sorry for your loss.

  • Like so many people here, I have had to do the same with my dog, Terri.

    Another tough decision I had to make was to move to a town I had NEVER been to (not even to visit) in order to begin my teaching career.

    I can still remember the final question that was posed to me in my telephone interview: “What makes you think you’d be able to teach the students here?”
    and my answer:

    “They’re teenagers, aren’t they?”

    After providing the best possible answers throughout the hour-long interview, I think this response nailed it for me. They phoned me back an hour later, and offered me the job.

    Teaching Math and English full-time prompted me to move to there, with my son, leaving my boyfriend (he couldn’t move since he had to remain in the city for visitation weekends with his son). Considering I had never lived anywhere else in my life, this move was HUGE.

    But, I did it, and am glad I did.

    Terri moved with us.
    She was alive back then.
    I still miss her, and can sympathize with the pain you are currently enduring. The only thing I can tell you is that the pain lessens as time passes. It really does.

    • Lorraine, it seems other people have said moving was a tough decision as well. I’m glad to hear it worked out well for you and your son. I think that’s the hardest thing about making a tough decision, you don’t know how the outcome will affect yourself and others.

  • Pioneer Outfitters

    My heart squeezed for you… what a gift you were blessed with.

    • Thanks. He was truly a gift. There was much joy brought into our household because of him.

  • What a hard decision to make. Its always difficult to lose a dog.

    The biggest and life changing decision my wife and myself have had to make was to move from Portland OR to San Diego Ca. It’s been a huge blessing living in the land of the sun!

    • Oh, it was Dan. I thank you for being there and helping me out when I needed it during this time. It meant the world to me.

      Wow, that’s quite the move. I never knew you made such a move. What was the deciding factor for moving?

      • I’ll have to tell you the entire story over the phone. Yes, it was a big move.

        • I’d love to hear the story. We’ll have to connect and you’ll have to share it!

  • So sorry for your loss Joseph.

    I’ve never had to put down a dog, but I’ve lost many through natural causes or accidents.

    Keep him in your memories and laugh a lot about the silly things he did. And I do believe that you’ll see him again in a much better state.

    • Thanks Matt. We’re hoping we’ll get to see him once again.

  • Pets become such a huge part of our lives, don’t they? It doesn’t start out that way, but over time they win our hearts. I’m sorry you had to make that decision, but glad you have peace you did what was right.

    • They do Tom. And for us he was, what I could only imagine to actual parents, one of our children.

  • rcsinclair952

    This plan, which God will complete when the time is right, is to bring ALL CREATION together, EVERYTHING in heaven and on earth, with Christ as head.” Ephesians 1:10

    I believe that Zane is wagging his tail sitting at the feet of Jesus right now. You will see him again when the time is right.

    • Haha, thanks Bob. While I’m not sure he’s at the feet of Jesus, I’m pretty sure he’s up there causing some mischief. He was always good at that but it brought smiles to our face.

  • Joseph, I am sorry for your loss. I’ve never made such a hard decision.

    When I was a teenager our family dog was old and dying. It was time to put her out of her pain but my mom couldn’t let go. Finally, when my mom was away, my dad ‘took the dog for a walk’. I watched him put her down and even though I cried, I knew it was an act of mercy.

    • Sutton, thanks for the sympathies. It’s amazing how much you become attached to a dog. In the end, Zane was family.

      And thanks for sharing your story about your childhood dog. That had to be rough to watch your dad put down the dog, even if it was an act of mercy. I couldn’t imagine having to do it that way.

  • That is a tough decision, Joe. I’m sorry, man. We got a dog about two years ago. A friend tried to convince me not to get a dog for about 50 reasons. I think he was really trying to save me from the future pain of letting him go. Will you get another dog?

    • Dan, it’s alright. While it’s tough and the tears still flow, we know we did the right thing for him.

      I can see where your friend was coming from if he was trying to save you the pain. It’s difficult. Super difficult. But I think the memories and joy they bring are more powerful than the pain.

      I’m not sure if we’ll get another dog (Though we have another dog that we’ve had since before Zane). My wife and I have discussed it and for the time being, we know we’re not going to add another one to the mix. Maybe sometime in the far future but nothing soon.

  • Hi Joe

    Your story resonates with me so much because I have a dog that I absolutely love. And to lose one at 8 years old….it reminds me to cherish my time with Gus. I don’t have kids; I have Gus. It’s so bad that I call my husband Gus, sometimes 🙁 And I’ve been known to pet Roger’s head and kiss Gus . . .

    I can’t imagine the pain you’re going through.

    Thanks for sharing.


    • LaRae, thanks for sharing about Gus. He sounds like a terrific dog that’s won your heart. Spoil him a little bit today for Zane.

  • I must say you had a lovely relation with the dog and believe me dogs gradually becomes the part of your family no matter what. I really liked your story and i wish you luck that you get a chance to meet another dog similar to him later in future.

    • Thanks George. Zane was one of the family. He was a great dog and he’s missed dearly.

      I’m not sure we’ll be adding another dog to the family anytime soon as we have had another dog that we’ve had since before Zane. And I just don’t know if I can go through this type of loss again.

  • Joe I know that was a tough decision for you both. When you have a bond like that its hard to move past them. We lost our cat that never returned home. It was one of the toughest things we had to go through.

    • Lincoln, sorry to hear about the loss of your cat. That would have to be tough as well.

  • Tammy Schaefer

    Yes, Joe. My husband, daughter and I have been through this several times with our cats. They all were unique personalities. It was hard to grieve when people didn’t understand that they weren’t just a cat, they were part of our family. Thanks for sharing your heart!

    • Tammy, I’m sorry you’ve had to go through the same situations with different cats. It’s a tough decision to make and one that hurts long after the act.

      I think the toughest part has been the fact others don’t realize how special these pets become. For my wife and I, Zane acted like a kid and was like a son to us. I’m sure your cats were the same to you.

  • Carmen

    I’m not a business leader and never actually believed myself to be a leader of any kind. However, I’m a mother. I’ve struggled a lot in that role and have essentially had to grow up and learn how to raise myself as I was learning about raising my kids. I botched it up quite badly, nearly irredeemably with my oldest.

    One of the toughest things I’ve had to do in that context is to release him into the care and love of others better equipped and able to exemplify what unconditional love means, and focus on the work I needed to do inside myself, in order to be prepared and available for the time I hoped and prayed for when there would be reconciliation and redemption of our relationship.

    • Carmen, while you may not be a business leader, you’ve definitely have had to make leadership choices. It sounds you made a tough, leadership choice when you released your son to be cared for by others.

      While my choice to put Zane down was tough, I couldn’t imagine the challenge of what you had to do. But you did it because you knew what was best.

  • K’Lee Banks

    Oh, I empathize with you! 🙁 What a beautiful canine companion he was!

    My hubby and I had to make the same decision last December, when our 12 1/2 y.o. canine companion, a black lab named Kita, had declined in health so rapidly, it broke our hearts and we couldn’t let her suffer any more. Had her since she was a puppy of just a few months old. Our vet actually came to our house and gave us as much time as we needed to say goodbye. We both held Kita as she drifted into that final sleep.

    There are still days I look for her or see her image transposed on our new canine companion, a 9 m.o. hound mix puppy with beautiful brindle markings. People who say dogs are “just dogs” – don’t have a clue how much they are our companions and family members just as much as the humans are! I blogged about the experience and I still cry every time I read it, along with looking at all the pictures with her in them.

    My heart aches for you and your family!

    • K’Lee, thank you so much. He truly was beautiful.

      I’m sorry to hear you’ve had to make the same decision. It’s a tough one for sure. It’s refreshing to see that your vet was so caring and came to your house to help you. That had to have helped.

      Care to share your blog post that you shared the experience? I would love to read it. Though, I’ll admit, I’ll probably be crying through the whole thing as well (-;

      • K’Lee Banks

        Hi Joe!

        Yes, it made a difficult experience somewhat easier when our very compassionate vet and her assistant came to the house; I couldn’t watch them remove her, though – I had to go in the bedroom and cry for about a half hour! 🙁

        I don’t mind at all sharing my own blog post; I just didn’t want to assume it would be OK to post a link to my own blog! Here it is:

        • Thanks for sharing the post. I’ll be checking it out tonight, after I get out of work so I don’t bawl my eyes out there (-;

  • ruthhill74

    I can remember dogs that had to be put to sleep in my past, and it is always hard. They become like friends and almost family members. So sorry you had to do this, but you had no other choice.
    Commenting from the UBC.

    • They do become family Ruth. We’re confident he’s in a better place and healthy once more.

  • Elizabeth Alraune

    Sorry for your loss. A friend had to put a cat down that I only knew for a few years, and it was difficult for me. I can’t imagine how you must feel.

    • It’s definitely tough Elizabeth. Something I never want to go through again but know I might have to with our other dog at some point.

  • Darlene Willman

    I also had to make the same decision. My cat had somehow developed a tumor in his lung. We were told he wouldn’t live much longer and to get prepared. I actually tried something a friend of mine suggested and a miracle happened. We got a few extra years of life with him! Then, when things took a turn for the worst, we had to bring him in and have him put down. As we waited in the vets office, he died in my arms. I guess he knew it was a hard decision for me so he beat me to it. Thanks for sharing your heartfelt story. I’m sure our pets are chasing one another up in heaven right now!

    • Darlene, I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your cat. They’re our family, aren’t they?

      I like the idea of our pets chasing each other. That’s kind of the visions I’ve been trying to have of him. He’s chasing Jesus, causing some havoc, bringing more joy to Heaven.

  • Pingback: Top Posts And Commenters For July 2013 - Joseph Lalonde()

  • Pingback: The Sting of Stretching (@JosephLalonde) | Jon Stolpe Stretched()

  • Md

    Toughest decision was to put our son in a wheelchair which would end the dream of walking one day. Adam has CP and as an 8th grader he underwent four grueling surgeries that we hoped would help him walk. In his 9th grade year, he fell when one of his crutches was accidentally kicked by another student. One of the surgeries had to be repeated. Later that year we all realized the dream of walking was over.

    Interestingly, the dream of independence was about to take off! Where Adam had been nervous on his crutches, he was confident in his chair,

    So, a tough decision was really a blessing. Many are; you know.

    • Md, thanks for sharing your story about your son and his battle with CP. It sounds like you guys have gone through a lot to make him “well” only to have him wind up in a wheelchair, where he seems to be even better than before. I’m glad your tough choice has resulted in your son being more independent and confident.

  • Pingback: 6 Ways Leaders Continue To Grow - Joseph Lalonde()

  • Pingback: Words Will Fail You - Joseph Lalonde()

  • Pingback: Using Music To Enrich Your Life - Joseph Lalonde()

  • Pingback: Slow Down. You’re Missing Life - Joseph Lalonde()

  • Pingback: Top Posts And Commenters For November 2013 | Joseph LalondeTop Posts And Commenters For November 2013 - Joseph Lalonde()

  • Pingback: the healing power of writing | dan erickson()

  • Pingback: 7 Things You Should Do Every Day | Joseph Lalonde7 Things You Should Do Every Day - Joseph Lalonde()

  • Pingback: I Wish You A Merry Christmas | I Wish You A Merry Christmas -()

  • Pingback: How To Think Bigger Than Today | How To Think Bigger Than Today -()

  • Pingback: 6 Friends I Can’t Wait To Meet - Joseph Lalonde()

  • Pingback: Leaders Are Called To Be Moment Makers - Joseph Lalonde()

  • Pingback: Top Three Choices Your Future Self Hopes You Will Make Today - Joseph Lalonde()

  • Pingback: I Still Miss You - Joseph Lalonde()

  • Pingback: Inch By Inch We Grow - Joseph Lalonde()

  • Pingback: How To Properly Assess A Risk - Joseph Lalonde()

  • Pingback: 10 Things I Hate About Leadership - Joseph Lalonde()

  • Pingback: Try Something Old Again - Joseph Lalonde()

  • Pingback: How To Be Blissfully Happy - Joseph Lalonde()

  • Pingback: 10 Ways You Can Acquire The Attitude Of Gratitude - Joseph Lalonde()

  • Pingback: What To Do When Change Is Difficult - Joseph Lalonde()

  • Pingback: Leadership Lessons And Quotes From Marvel's Ant-Man - Joseph Lalonde()

  • Pingback: How To Create Consistent Blog Content - Joseph Lalonde()

  • Pingback: The World Keeps Changing - Joseph Lalonde()

  • Pingback: We All Have An Ugly Couch - Joseph Lalonde()

  • Pingback: How Are You Masking Your Pain? - Joseph Lalonde()